Union of the Snake

For a guy without ophiolatrous leanings, or even any especial herpetological interests, I have a lot of snake stories. Weirdly many of them about near-fateful encounters I’ve had with extremely dangerous species. The time, when I was wee, my mother St. Georged a water moccasin that had coiled beneath me on my swing (thanks, mom!). The time I crawled headfirst into a dark shaft beneath the Casa Grande domes without a headlamp and stopped – for no perceptible reason – with my face just inches short of a sleeping rattlesnake.* The time a different rattlesnake bit me on the foot as I waded through waist-high scrub in shorts while bush-running a string of small peaks in the San Bernardinos. Bruno Ganz’s admonition that “only double knots will last” may have saved my life there – or, at the very least, my leg – when the snake’s fangs got snarled in the twice-tied laces of my Asics.

I’ve handled snakes, let them lick my face, and even encircle my body (which reminds me of an elderly, white-afroed Black man I once saw sitting on a stool at Venice Beach, talking on his phone, encircled by three albino pythons; “No photos,” he told me). Deb Chachra and I once threw sleeping bags down in the dune sea that envelops the US-Mexico border near Yuma and slept under the Milky Way. The next morning, we saw evidence that at least one shovel-nosed snake (Chionactis annulata annulata? Chionactis occipitalis occipitalis?) had swum through the sand beneath us in the night, like a baby Shai-Hulud.

I won’t go on, but could.

I mention all of this because I have, while overturning figurative (and actual) rocks in the first few weeks of my PhD, somehow already been surprised by a snake – a fantastically huge one, undulating back through spacetime from the oil fields of eastern Oklahoma to the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (née Southern Death Cult) mounds of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, into penumbral prehistory, of the Early Woodland and even darker, deeper time. I’m supposed to be writing about Gravitational Minimalism for a seminar talk I’ll give in two weeks at University College Dublin, but all I really want to think about these days is snakes.

*Come to think of it, for years, every time I crawled into holes in the ground in the desert southwest I was confronted by sentinel serpents. A run of ill luck interrupted in one notable instance when a growling mountain lion inhabited the cave instead.

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